US moves to ease Cuban trade embargo

The US Embassy in Havana on 17 September 2015Image copyright

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The Obama administration said the new rules underscore its commitment to the Cuban people

The US has announced eased restrictions on business and travel with Cuba, the latest move by President Barack Obama to improve relations with the country.

The rules, which go into effect on Monday, relate to travel, telecom, internet-based services, business operations, banking and remittances.

US businesses will now be allowed to open up locations in Cuba.

Cuban President Raul Castro and US President Barack Obama discussed the move in a phone conversation on Friday.

The changes come as the US and Cuba normalise relations after 53 years.

“A stronger, more open US-Cuba relationship has the potential to create economic opportunities for both Americans and Cubans alike,” said US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew in a statement.

“By further easing these sanctions, the United States is helping to support the Cuban people in their effort to achieve the political and economic freedom necessary to build a democratic, prosperous and stable Cuba.”

Authorised travellers will be permitted to open and maintain bank accounts in Cuba, senior administration officials said on Friday.

Close relatives will now be allowed to accompany authorised travellers going to Cuba for educational, journalistic, humanitarian or religious activities or research.

Officials said travel to Cuba for tourist activity is still prohibited by statute.

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US businesses will be able to open physical locations in Cuba and Americans will have more opportunity to travel to the country

Companies will also be able to import Cuban mobile applications to the US and hire Cuban nationals to work on them.

President Obama thinks the best way to strengthen the Cuban people is through contact, officials said.

In July Cuba and the United States formally re-established relations, and in January the Obama administration announced initial changes to the Cuba sanctions programme.

Ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba, and before Cuban President Raul Castro is set to address the United Nations, Cuba announced on Friday the appointment of a US ambassador, the first since 1961.

Veteran diplomat Jose Cabanas will be Cuba’s ambassador to the US.

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